Vermont Teddy Bear Offering Sparks Controversy

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The Vermont Teddy Bear Co., Shelburne, VT, is to meet today with officials from the Vermont office of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill regarding a controversy surrounding the DMer's introduction last month of a straightjacket-wearing teddy bear.


Soon after the bear's introduction, mental health advocates and consumers expressed concerns that it insults and stigmatizes the mentally ill.


"We create products for adults, and sometimes they can be a little edgy," company spokeswoman Nicole L'Huillier said.


The $69.95 "Crazy for You" bear was introduced at the start of January for the Valentine's Day gift-giving season and is accompanied by commitment papers. It received "overwhelmingly positive feedback" in customer surveys during the product development stage, L'Huillier said.


It joins such adult-themed teddy bears from Vermont Teddy Bear as the Playbear Playmate bear and the soon-to-be-released Playboy bear, which bears a resemblance to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.


In response to negative feedback about the "Crazy for You" bear, Vermont Teddy Bear removed the bear from the home page of its Web site, vtbear.com, and radio advertising.


"We worked very hard to try not to promote this bear and to minimize its publicity and promotion," L'Huillier said.


However, the company has not taken the additional step of ceasing sale of the bear.


"At this time, it will be sold through Valentine's Day or until it sells out," L'Huillier said, adding that sales of the bear have been brisk.


The company set up a toll-free phone line, 888/502-1715, and an e-mail account, bearcomments@vtbear.com, designated for comments regarding the controversial bear. Also, officials from NAMI's national office in Washington, DC, have been invited to the company's headquarters Feb. 8.


"We've been working with the local and national offices of NAMI since this became a bigger issue to see what we can learn," L'Huillier said.


Three years ago, Vermont Teddy Bear received negative comments from several groups and consumers when it introduced a Gay Pride bear.


Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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